Uncle Milton's circuit toys at Toy Fair
Circuit toys were everywhere at last month's Toy Fair, thanks to the ever-popular STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) toy genre, not to mention STEAM (add arts to STEM) and STREAM (add robotics to STEAM).
At venerable Uncle Milton—long a STEM supplier with toys like its signature Ant Farm—national accounts sales director Julie Caravaggio played up the "toyetic" qualities of the company's new entries Circuit Pinball, which delivers the sounds and lights of a traditional pinball game, and Robot Circuit Lab.
"We brought a toyetic quality to them—the toy part of science learning--that we think will better engage science learning of all kinds," said Caravaggio, adding, of other circuit toys, "they look like they're for geeks, maybe, or electrical engineers."
At its first Toy Fair and already with a Toy Industry Association (TIA) Toy of the Year (TOTY) nomination in the Activity category for its Circuit Scribe Maker Kit, Circuit Scribe showcased its new Mini Kit: a miniature version of its conductive ink pen by which one can draw, via a mini pen's conductive silver ink, conductive doodles that create paper-based switches. These then fade an included LED light on and off with a slider module and coin cell battery (both also included), thereby providing an accessible introduction to electronics.
ThinkFun Inc. brought its TOTY Game of the Year-nominated Circuit Maze logic game, which challenges players to solve puzzles involving electrical currents (designed by famed puzzle-creator Wei-Hwa) and lights up a beacon when they're successful—teaching advanced circuitry concepts along the way. Science Wiz expanded its Games Magazine Puzzle of the Year award-winning Cool Circuits (which likewise features a light-up game board) and its Cool Circuits--Junior version, with Cool Circuits--Over the Top!, which adds orange and blue barriers in creating a new level of challenges. All three Cool Circuits configurations were also available in the combined Cool Circuits--The Full Suite.
Newcomer littleBits showed its electronic building toy kits, which take the classic building block concept and stimulate open-ended play while encouraging STEAM learning using colored electronic modules that magnetically snap together in creating simple circuits and inventive projects.
The company also introduced its new Synth Kit, which enables children to explore electronic sound and build their own working synthesizers.
Another newcomer, Circuit Cubes, is similarly offering LEGO-compatible magnetic electronic building blocks, though theirs snap together in all directions in allowing kids to build whatever they want and with anything they want--from LEGOs to ordinary household items like milk cartons or old toys.
"The question is, 'How do you cover up learning with fun?'" said Nate MacDonald, Circuit Cubes co-founder/president, an award-winning robotics educator prior to launching the company.
"As teachers and parents, we know that lessons on engineering and circuitry need to be grounded in play to really spark kids' interest and imagination," said MacDonald. “We love the idea of bringing toys into the classroom, but quickly noticed that most educational products today tend to overlook the importance of showing how to connect Point A to Point B. At the same time, some toys that aim to teach aren't actually that fun to play with."
Circuit Cubes' first three kits are Bright Lights, Smart Art and Whacky Wheels. All come with wires, a variety of LEGO-style bricks and other parts pertinent to the theme, like wheels and hubs, and markers, plus the three primary Battery, Motor and LED Circuit Cubes.
"Any five-year-old kid can put a set of LEGOS together," said MacDonald. "We just add Circuit Cubes."